|Jack (Tom Cruise), a human survivor of an alien invasion, watches Earth's oceans taken for energy. "Oblivion" (Universal Pictures, 2013)|
The Indigenous Peoples of Brazil have been waiting a quarter of a century to get their land back. That was when Brazil’s federal authorities made a promise to protect and restore the land used by the country's Indigenous communities.
Instead, those 25 years have taken a horrible toll – both on the communities and on the land. In Mato Grosso do Sul, what were hectares of forest with incredible diversity are now fields of sugar cane and soy beans. There are fields upon fields of these crops as far as the eye can see, broken intermittently by a small patch of forest.
Here corporate players call the shots. Indigenous Peoples are left to live on the margins - literally. I visited a small community called the Guarani-Kaiowá, who live between the barbed wire fence that surrounds a cane field and a major road.
Their leaders welcomed me, but their words of anger, frustration and grief were drowned out by the nearly continuous roar of trucks travelling at high speed along the road.
Their tales of suffering are alarming, yet sadly not unusual. Just this year, a small boy in the community was struck by a car as he walked along the road, hand-in-hand with his grandmother—the fifth family member she had lost.
Indigenous leaders in July 2012 plead to stop
the construction of the Belo Monte dam.
Photo: Flicker/ International Rivers
Attacks on members of Indigenous communities are routine in Brazil. Community leaders are often targeted, members disappear and activists are particularly at risk, but virtually none of the perpetrators are brought to justice.These land grabs aren't only for agriculture. Powerful economic forces also want these places for hydropower. Global Voice reports a few weeks ago that
[t]he fight continues between the Brazilian government pushing to bring another hydroelectric dam to the Tapajós river basin in the Brazilian Amazon and the indigenous Munduruku people who live there. In the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Pará, where many indigenous people live, there are 11 hydroelectric plants in different stages of construction and licensing, including the controversial Belo Monte dam. Other areas in the region are undergoing environmental surveys to plan future development. The dams are being built to feed much-needed power to the country as it undergoes tremendous economic growth.
|Photo: Flicker/ International Rivers|
[o]n this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself—God's gift to his children—and through hard work and creativity. At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it. This means being committed to making joint decisions “after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.” Let us hope that the international community and individual governments will succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment. It is likewise incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet.
Pope Francis in Rio for World Youth Day.
But increasing this presence is what Pope Francis meant when he urge the bishops of Brazil to protect the Amazon. He wasn't just speaking of forests. He also meant the indigenous peoples who call those forests home.
Saint Katherine Drexel, pray for us.